HC Deb 15 July 1974 vol 877 cc27-31
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. James Callaghan)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I will make a statement about the recent events in Cyprus.

The House will understand that information about events in Cyprus is still coming in and what I say this afternoon is incomplete.

The National Guard in Cyprus, claiming to be intervening in order to stop fighting between Greeks in Cyprus, has seized power. The presidential palace has been under attack, and it is reported that President Makarios has been killed. If this report proves to be well founded, the whole House will join me in expressing its very deep dismay and regret at the death in such circumstances of the President of a friendly country who was also the senior Commonwealth Head of State.

The Treaty of Guarantee, which was signed by the Greek, Turkish and Cyprus Governments as well as by Her Majesty's Government, provides for the recognition and maintenance of the independence, territorial integrity and security of Cyprus. I have drawn the attention of the Greek and Turkish Governments to these undertakings and have urged the need for restraint on all sides. I have asked for their urgent views on the situation. I am also in touch with the Secretary-General of the United Nations and with other interested Governments.

There have been no reports of injury or loss to British subjects. The airport at Nicosia is closed, and our High Commissioner has advised residents and holi- day-makers to stay at home until the position is clarified. I am reviewing arrangements for ensuring the safety of the British community and their evacuation should that prove necessary.

I will keep the House informed of future developments.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The House will be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for having come to us at the earliest possible moment with the information he has received. The House will also wish to associate itself with the right hon. Gentleman in his utter condemnation of this brutal and senseless assassination of a Head of State of a Commonwealth country, if this proves to be true. When will people learn that violence in pursuit of political aims does nothing to further social justice?

I join the right hon. Gentleman in expressing the hope that the Greek and Turkish Governments will jointly take action to calm an explosive situation. That, and that alone, would probably have an effect in the island. I hope, too, that the United Nations force will be able to keep order as is necessary there.

The only other point arises on our own bases. From my recollection I would say that the orders given in anticipation of a situation such as this in the island are explicit. If the right hon. Gentleman on further examination should think that anything else has to be added to these orders, no doubt he will say so.

Mr. Callaghan

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his appeal. This is potentially an explosive situation and very great statesmanship and restraint will need to be shown by both communities in the island if we are to avoid even worse trouble than has already befallen them.

The arrangements for the safety of British citizens and the security of our sovereign base areas are being reviewed. There are clear instructions at present. I have no reason to doubt so far that they will be inadequate.

Mr. Bottomley

Is it certain that Archbishop Makarios is dead? Rumour has it that he is alive and with the United Nations forces.

Mr. Callaghan

I have seen that on the tape, but there is no confirmation of it. The only reports that we have are—I regret to say—that the Archbishop is likely to be dead.

Mr. Grimond

Is the Secretary of State aware that everyone will agree with him about the need for restraint? May I express the great dismay and regret of myself and my colleagues at the rumours concerning the Archbishop, a man whom some of us know and who has long played a rôle in Commonwealth affairs?

Under the treaty to which the Secretary of State referred, do we have any responsibility for internal security?

Mr. Callaghan

No, we have no such responsibility. We have a right to consult the other Governments who are signatories of the Treaty of Guarantee. That is what I have set in motion today to ensure that security is maintained in the island and that there is no attack from outside.

Mrs. Jeger

I appreciate that restraint is necessary on this very sad day, but may I ask my right hon. Friend to pay some attention to Article 4 of the Treaty of Guarantee which points out that, where common concerted action may not be possible, each of the three guaranteeing Powers reserves the right to take some action? Surely it is a fact that the setting up of the British sovereign base areas was part and parcel of our agreement to guarantee the integrity of Cyprus under the constitution as then laid down. Will my right hon. Friend bear this very much in mind over the next few hours?

Mr. Callaghan

I have read that article very carefully. As my hon. Friend says, it gives us rights; but the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetlands (Mr. Grimond) was asking about obligations. There is a difference. We are in the very early hours of this event. It happened only this morning. A declaration has been put out by those who led the coup saying that foreign policy will not change and that Cyprus will maintain friendly relations with all nations while pursuing a policy of non-alignment as happened in the past. I do not know how much reliance at this stage we should attach to any of the declarations that are forthcoming. I believe that it is the view of the whole House that the integrity, security and independence of Cyprus are vital.

Mr. Amery

May I, as one who worked very closely, both against and later with Archbishop Makarios for some years, take this opportunity of saying that from a bitter opponent of this country he became a great friend and that he was a great Greek patriot who realised that his goal of Enosis should not be rushed at but should be delayed, otherwise his own people and Greece as a whole in their relations with Turkey would have suffered deeply.

Mr. Callaghan

Yes. I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, whose name is also commemorated in the documents associated with the final settlement. I hope that what he has said about the relationship between Cyprus, Greece and Turkey, with which I agree, will be borne in mind by those who have responsibility for these affairs on the mainland.

Mr. Atkinson

Does my right hon. Friend recognise the great obligation that is felt by many of those who represent large Greek communities in the House? Does he recognise also that this situation raises one of the important questions in foreign politics throughout the world, namely, the purpose of United Nations troops? Is it not the purpose of United Nations occupancy by troops to prevent a change of government or of Head of State by methods other than those approved by the United Nations?

Mr. Callaghan

I am not sure what obligations were laid upon the United Nations troops, but my recollection is that they were introduced to ensure that there would be no outbreak of violence between the Turkish and Greek-Cypriot community. As to their possible effectiveness in preventing a bloody coup of the sort that has taken place, my information is that there are 2,400 United Nations troops of various nationalities and that the National Guard alone is over 10,000 strong.

Sir G. Sinclair

Does the Secretary of State accept that many of us who served in Cyprus when Makarios's aims were contrary to the aims of the British Government had the experience of working with him later to try to establish an independent Cyprus, and it is because the independence of Cyprus is at present called into question by the National Guard's action in trying to achieve a precipitate Enosis that the danger of serious disagreement, if not worse, between Greece and Turkey, is now only just over the horizon again? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that we greatly welcome his call to the Governments of Greece and Turkey to appeal for calm at this stage?

Mr. Callaghan

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman and I note what he said. Of course we do not know at the moment whether the actions of the Greek officers and the National Guard were taken of themselves, or were inspired from elsewhere. We must reserve judgment on that for the time being.

Mr. David Watkins

May I put it to my right hon. Friend that the policy within Cyprus that appears to have gained most widespread support among the people of Cyprus is that that country should remain independent within the Commonwealth, which in practice has been largely Archbishop Makarios's policy? That being so, in view of the relationship that this country has with Cyprus, will my right hon. Friend and the Government use all possible influence to avoid what now appears to be a possibility of war between Greece and Turkey with Cyprus as the battlefield?

Mr. Callaghan

Of course. That is why I have taken an initiative this morning in all those directions. I was glad to see that in a speech he made this morning, a report of which I have just received, the Turkish Prime Minister indicated, in the words used by the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir A. Douglas-Home), that violence of this sort could solve no problems. Talking to a Turkish audience, he made that quite clear in what he said of his feelings about the death of Archbishop Makarios.

Sir Frederic Bennett

As the Foreign Secretary has said, this is a difficult and dangerous situation. I am glad to hear, if I have interpreted what he said correctly, that there is no question of Turkish involvement and that, so far as can be seen, this is purely a matter of one section of the Greeks against another.

Mr. Callaghan

The Greek National Guard has claimed responsibility for the coup.